House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, center, with other state legislators at a meeting with Fairfield town officials Photo Credit: Contributed photo
A longtime New Britain independent soda manufacturer found a way to express its displeasure with Gov. Ned Lamont's proposed tax on soda. Avery's Beverages, in business for more than a century, is producing a limited edition brand: "Don't Tax Me Ned!" Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Connecticut also is proposing a potential $15 licensing fee on cats. Photo Credit: Contributed
Bob Stefanowski, left, and Ned Lamont during a televised debate in the race for governor last fall. Photo Credit: WCTX screengrab

Sales Tax On Groceries, Prescriptions, Soft Drinks, Even Cats: Just 'Ideas,' Or Coming To CT?

Bob Stefanowski predicted it, numerous times, during televised debates last fall:

Democrat Ned Lamont of Greenwich is a "clone of Dannel Malloy" and there may be few taxes, fees or tolls, that the newly-elected governor doesn't like, the Republican gubernatorial candidate alleged.

Now-Gov. Lamont recently expanded his two-year budget proposal to include taxes on sugary drinks, plastic bags, wine and liquor bottles, tobacco and vaping products.

Connecticut would be the first state since 1992 to pass a soda tax if it happens this year. Five other states also are considering a soft drink tax, facing aggressive lobbying by the soda beverage industry. 

Even former Gov. Malloy didn't support a sugary beverage tax or a plastic bag fee, which could be 10 cents per bag.

The last state to enact a soda tax was Arkansas in 1992. That law is still on the books, but soda companies and the powerful American Beverage Association (ABA) wage a perennial and expensive fight against taxes on their products nationwide.

By considering taxes on soda, liquor bottles -- and possibly groceries and prescription drugs -- Lamont said he aims to reduce the nearly $4 billion two-year budget deficit that he (and state taxpayers) inherited.from Malloy and the Democrat-controlled state legislature.

To underscore how desperate some Senators have gotten to balance the state budget, a suggested CAT tax -- not a Commercial Activities Tax-- has been unleashed at the Capitol. 

Senate Bill 999 was the subject of a public hearing before the legislature’s environment committee earlier this year. The legislation would require pet owners to license their cats for a $15 fee.The proposed bill is opposed by animal advocacy groups and was labeled by Republican opponents as a “cat tax.”

Fairfield University Economics Professor Marc LeClair said: "Whenever a new governor is elected, (he has) the chance to change the direction of public policy. . . .Connecticut has looming budget issues, a governor who needs to find revenue or cut programs, and residents who want economic stability for themselves and their children. People want to know if Connecticut’s new administration will offer the state a new direction."

Daily Voice reader Joel Thompson reacted by saying: "Ah, here we see a cat tax as a prelude for a human being registration fee and tax. . . ."

"Humans will not be able to renew their registrations without having a full physical exam and a colonoscopy first," Thompson mused.

Adding dozens of items and services to the state’s 6.35 percent sales tax would generate more than $1 billion in new revenue over the next two years, Lamont estimates. New electronic tolls along state highways could add another $1 billion each year if they are approved.

Meanwhile, Lamont’s budget plan preserves a controversial hospital user fee scheduled to be scaled back and instead will generate close to $1 billion in revenue. Under a complicated arrangement that provides them supplemental Medicaid payments, the hospitals would end up paying the state about $450 million.

'"We are strongly opposed to the proposed budget. The current Administration is not honoring the bipartisan agreement for this year or next year, and the budget makes additional cuts to hospitals,'" Jennifer Jackson, CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association, said in a press statement.

Lamont addressed a joint session of the state legislature on Feb. 20 to outline his budget plan which has projected annual deficits of $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion in the next two years.

"I will not allow this budget to be another scene from ‘Groundhog Day,’ where I come to you year-after-year hat-in-hand lamenting the fact that we still haven’t addressed our structural deficits," Lamont said. "The fiscal crisis before us is not just a short-term hole in the budget. We are digging that hole deeper by $400 to $500 million annually, due to fixed costs such as pensions, state employee healthcare and bonded debt — all growing faster than our economy. Most of these fixed costs pay for the past rather than investing in our future."

In his budget, Lamont also proposed a 1.5-cent tax for each fluid ounce of sodas, sports drinks and other sugary drinks to raise revenue and to combat obesity. 

While soda is the best-known item, the new beverage tax also would apply to sports drinks, energy drinks, ready-to-drink tea and coffee, enhanced water and fruit drinks in a measure that would raise $163 million in the second year of the two-year budget pending approval by legislators.

Lamont also proposed raising the age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 and to put a 75 percent tax on vaping products. 

And Lamont wants to add a 25-cent bottle deposit for wine and liquor and a nickel deposit on small liquor bottles, known by some as "nips."

Republican legislators quickly jumped on new taxes and a plan to consolidate school districts as desperate moves that will prompt more people to move out of Connecticut. Others merely see them as Lamont "trial balloons" aimed at sparking budget debate and compromises.

Indeed, leading House Democrats called them "just ideas," and told their Republican colleagues to relax.

"Everyone needs to take a deep breath," House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin, told reporters before an earlier legislative session.

About 5,000 proposed bills will be presented in 2019, Aresimowicz said, and Lamont is merely challenging state lawmakers to close a budget gap caused by rising pension costs and a lack of revenue.

“All of these ideas are ideas," Aresimowicz said. "We should hear them all. I never take any idea off the table. . . .If you have an idea, I want to hear about it.''

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, a Democrat from Hartford, echoed Aresimowicz' warning, saying legislators will have to make tough choices to resolve the state budget crunch.

Hold on, some Republican legislators clamored. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides from Derby called a new tax on groceries "a non-starter" among House Republicans. She said the possibility of taxing groceries and prescription drugs attracted angry email and phone calls from many constituents. 

Under Lamont’s proposal, according to Klarides, "everything you do, you will pay more doing it. I believe there’s a path forward, but this is not the path. . . .These things are hurting middle-class families and hurting businesses big and small." 

Daily Voice readers expressed widespread disdain for any new taxes: 

Sheri Adinolfi Randazzo said, "Sure. Why not? Another reason to leave the State. As if we don't pay enough for the privilege of living here! Sick of all these taxes. What's next? Tax on the air you take in?"

And Brian Norcross said, "Time to call the moving van while we still have money to pay for it."

Randazzo added: "You are so right. . . It's a wonder we haven't become a ghost state. Family is the reason I'm here and the ONLY reason."

John Levin, meanwhile, wrote: "I'm fine with tax hikes to pay our state's bills. But, if we are going to do regressive taxes, I would much rather see the gas tax raised. The last change to the gas tax was in 1996 -- and that was a 20 percent DECREASE! Gas prices are very low now, and doubling the gas tax would still keep CT gas prices lower than they were six months ago."

Finally, Robert K. Pavlick wrote: "Well thank you so much, Governor! How many new ways can you come up with to fleece and deprive the elderly and others on fixed income of the necessities of life? And thank you to the Brain-dead voters of Connecticut that put this man in office."